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Creatine: A Summary March 26, 2009

Posted by Matt Brown in Human Enhancement.
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As arguably the most popular supplement on the market creatine gets alot of press, some of it true and some of it not.   After several conversations with friends and acquaintances who were taking creatine yet had absolutely no idea what it actually did I figured I might as well explain it.

Creatine is an organic acid found in the body and is an integral part of the body’s energy system.  The human body uses a molecule called Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) as it’s “energy currency.”  Energy in ATP is stored in the molecular bonds between the three phosphate groups (hence Triphosphate.)  When the body needs energy one of the phosphate ions is broken off, forming ADP and realising the power stored in the molecular bond.  Since most of ATP’s energy is stored in the third phosphate group’s bond ADP is pretty useless as an energy source so the body constantly needs to replenish it’s supply of ATP.  It has a few ways of doing that.  One way is through anaerobic glycolisis, breaking down glycogen stored in the muscles and liver and producing a small amount of ATP (2 net if you’re interested.)  The byproduct of this process is pyruvate, which can then be used in aerobic glycolisis which as the name implies requires oxygen but produces far more ATP.  Unfortunately both these processes take time , so when the body needs energy immediately it turns to creatine.  After ATP is broken down into ADP, releasing it’s stored energy, creatine bonds the ADP and phosphate ion back together thus reforming it into ATP.  With creatine the bodies’ supply of ATP, about 2-3 seconds worth, is increased to about 10 seconds worth.

Now that we know what creatine does the question then becomes what beneficial effects does creatine supplementation have.  Most often creatine is used during resistance training to encourage muscle hypertrophy, a task it does this very well since the increase in energy allows more reps at a higher weight.  It is especially useful when training for muscular strength (6-8 reps at 80% or more of 1RM) or power as this is when the muscle is primarily using it’s immediate stores of ATP.  It is less effective when training for muscular endurance (12 and above reps at 60% or less of 1RM) and does very little for cardiovascular endurance.

There is also some evidence that creatine supplementation may increase cognitive abilities.  A study (1) conducted at the University of Sydney found that creatine supplementation for six weeks increased memory and intelligence in young, vegetarian subjects.  However, another study (2) by Bloomsburg University found no effect of creatine supplementation versus a placebo in young adults, so it is not yet clear whether or not creatine improves cognitve function, improves it only in certain groups or not at all.  If you’ll allow me to speculate a bit, if creatine is found to be a nootropic it is most likely because it increase the amount of energy the brain has access to before it has to produce more, identical to it’s effects in the muscles. 

In conclusion, the bottom line is that creatine is safe and effective as a supplement for increasing muscular strength and hypertrophy and may increase cognitive function.

 (1)  http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?tool=pubmed&pubmedid=14561278

(2) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6T0P-4SHF4KD-5&_user=10&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&view=c&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=f08b62515738bacf3dd872aa44d341be

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World Baseball Classic Championship March 23, 2009

Posted by Matt Brown in Sports.
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The final game between Japan and Korea just went to extra innings. If you’re not watching this game, start now. It’s a great one.

The World Baseball Classic and the Arrogance of American Sports March 22, 2009

Posted by Matt Brown in Sports.
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Tonight I heard quite possibly the stupidest thing I have heard in a very long time.  I was watching the World Baseball Classic, an international tournament compromising the best players in the world playing for their national teams.  Think of it as the World Cup, thought not nearly as popular, for baseball.  Tonight the USA was playing Japan in the semifinals.  The thing that pissed me off was something one of the commentators said.  They were discussing some questionable moves made by the American coach, keeping a player in when they should have been pulled, and one of them made the point that to a large degree his hands had been tied by the managers of the Major League teams.  The managers wanted to make sure their players got in enough playing time to be ready for the regular season, so rather than simply playing to win the coach also had to make sure he kept players healthy and ready for the regular season.  The stupid thing is not that but what one of the commentators said in defending it, that the managers were right to do that because the regular season was what really mattered in the end and that the players weren’t too worried with this tournament.  According to him they were more concerned with, and now I’m quoting, “winning a world championship.” (i.e. World Series)

I wanted to yell at the screen, THIS IS THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP YOU IDIOT!  The real world championship!  Teams from countries around the world playing not for money, not for themselves, but for the pride of their nations.  That is something worth playing for and it pisses me off that people can ignore that so easily.  But I can’t be too angry at him, because that’s how Americans view international tournaments.  Sure we all pretend to give a damn about the Olympics when it rolls around but when you get right down to it we just don’t care.  We’re the last superpower.  If we win that just proves how great we are.  If we lose, eh, we weren’t really trying anyway.  We have to worry about the “world championship.”

Yoga vs. Kung Fu March 18, 2009

Posted by Matt Brown in Fitness.
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Okay, there are two reasons why I’m posting this viedo.  Firstly because it’s arguably the craziest demonstration of flexibility I’ve ever seen.  Don’t take my word for it, just watch the video.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FrYlNNy929Y

On a more serious note, I want to say a few things regarding the yoga master’s flexibility.  While extremely impressive as a general rule hyperflexiblity of the joints, such as displayed in the video, is not usually something to be desired.  That kind of flexibility requires very loose musculature around the joints as tight muscles would not allow such range of motion.  Unfortunately, tight muscles can actually be a good thing as they contribute to jiont stability.

Think of it this way.  Every time you take a step an enormous amount of force is placed on the joints of the legs (when walking the force is equal to your body weight, when running it can be 3x your body weight.)   To counteract that force, your muscles contract to ensure joint integrity.  Tight muscles provide more stability, loose muscles provide less.  As such hyperflexibility places joints in a precarious position, increasing the risk of injury. 

Now normally I would say that the hyperflexiblity in the yoga master’s joints gives him an increased risk of injury, but I also know enough about yoga (seeing as how I teach it) to know that in addition to improving flexibility it is a wonderful strength building practice, as can be seen in the video itself.  As such I will simply end with this little bit of advice: any increase in one aspect of the body’s abilities will lead to a decrease in another, so unless you’re training for a specific event, don’t be a specialist (i.e. great flexibility, little strength), strive to be, well, an all around athlete.  After all, adaptability is what got us as a species where we are.

The Illusion of Fairness in Sports March 17, 2009

Posted by Matt Brown in Human Enhancement, Sports.
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With all the various doping scandals going on in the sporting world right now the word fairness gets thrown around alot.  The idea of fairness in sports is something that is drilled into most of us at a young age.  The idea of sports as a “level playing field,” where no one takes the short cut and everyone succeeds based on their grit, determination and natural talent is appealing to most people.  Unfortunately, it’s also hypocritical and counter-intuitive.  Allowing athletes to use performance enhancers would actually make sports more fair for reasons I will explain below.  Before we get to why athletes should be allowed to use these substances let’s deal with the arguments why they should not.

The objections to the use of performance enhancing substance can be boiled down to two general positions: these substances are dangerous and should therefore be banned, or these substances give some athletes an unfair advantage and should therefore be banned.  As to the first, though as a general rule I think people should be able to do with (and put into) their body as they see fit, when it comes to athletics I agree with this position.  The ultimate end to transhumanism is to make humans stronger, smarter and healthier.  Using substances that give short term boosts to performance but in the long run destroy the body is counter to this goal.  In addition, making harmful substances legal puts some athletes in a position where they must choose between their health and their career, a choice they should not be forced to make.

As to the second objection, it should be obvious at this point that I don’t agree with it.  Saying these substances are an unfair advantage is a poor argument for one simple reason: sports are not fair.  To use myself as an example, I’m 5’9″ and about 160 pounds.  I will never make it into the NFL and neither will most of the men in America.  It doesn’t matter how hard we work or how much practice we put in.  The simple simple fact is that most people are not lucky enough to be born with the natural gifts to become an NFL football player.  Is that fair?  Is it fair that a roll of the genetic dice largely determines who has the athletic ability to become a world class athlete?  No, frankly it is not, and those who were lucky enough to be born with the right genes possess an unfair advantage over those who don’t.  Which brings us to the reasons for allowing athletes to use performance enhancers.

For starters, allowing athletes to use performance enhancers would actually help to make sports more fair.  By eliminating most, and at some point all, differences in physical ablility we can make it so that the only thing which determines a persons success is their effort, their drive, how much time and practice they put in to perfecting their skills, all the things that people say they want to preserve in sports.  Secondly, attempting to restrict what people can and can’t put into their bodies represents an invasion of privacy and an attempt by government and society to legislate standards of behavior.  Not only is this a morally wrong position, it’s also a terribly unsucessful one (just look at the war on drugs, prohibition, and the number of doping scandals in sports to see how successful we have been at outlawing goods) and does nothing to ensure the safety of the athletes.  A better system would be to allow athletes to dope while having systems in place to ensure the safe use of performance enhancers, similar to the idea of legalising currently illegal drugs while having programs in place to help addicts and others under the influence.

In short, the effects of outlawing performance enhancers have repercusions far beyond the sporting world.  They go to the heart of whether or not people have the right to own bodies or whether others (government, church, society) have the right to determine what a person can and can’t do with themselves.

How Long is Long Enough? March 15, 2009

Posted by Matt Brown in Human Enhancement.
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In a recently written post up on wordpress, one writer asked this question.  The post was in reference to the now oldest living man in the world, Tomoji Tanabe, who was born Sept. 18, 1895 and is celebrating his 113th birthday.  The article didn’t really attempt to answer the question but it got me thinking.  How old is old enough?

There have been many arguements against the idea of extending human life but one of the primary ones has been the belief that a long life equals a meaningless life.

Amputee Given Prosthetic Mermaid Fins. March 12, 2009

Posted by Matt Brown in Bionics.
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I love science.  Nadya Vessey, a double leg amputee from New Zealand, has recently been given a functioning prosthetic mermaid fin.  Let me say that again, a functioning prosthetic mermaid fin.  If you don’t believe me take a look at the photo in the article linked below.  Ms. Vessey, who had her legs amputated as a child, contacted a special effects company called the Weta Worshop and asked if they would make her a mermaid tail.  Several thousand dollars and two and a half years later Ms. Vessey is now the proud owner of what I am guessing is the only working mermaid fin in the world.  The spine and fin of the tail are made from polycarbonate, while wetsuit fabric is used for the skin.   

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/discoblog/2009/03/12/when-humans-get-animal-prosthetics-amputee-fitted-with-mermaid-fin/